Welcoming a new baby into the home is always a magical day. Everyone enjoys loving on the baby, and who can resist newborn snuggles? But bringing home a new baby when you have a toddler may not be as magical as you hoped. Your big toddler may be feeling a little left out with all the new excitement of the new baby. This is normal. This is NOT a representation of your parenting. It is just a hard time creating balance.
Throughout my years as a mom, I have always tried to remind myself that my toddler, is in fact, still a baby themselves. They seem like an older child the second the new baby arrives, but they are still so young in the bigger picture of life. Tantrums, tears, sleep battles, and emotional rollercoasters come as you try to do it all. I can handle the tantrums and the tears . . . kind of. Don’t get me wrong, they are tough, but fighting bedtime when I have no energy left to give is where I have always struggled the most. And bringing home a new baby can wreak havoc on keeping your toddler’s sleep on track.
At the end of your long days, you are exhausted and ready for a well-deserved break. So, that moment when you tuck your toddler in, and they start crying and begging you not to go, or maybe you have tucked them in, and they have now come out of their room for the hundredth time, you are about ready to lose your mind. I know it is frustrating! Understanding why your toddler is acting out at bedtime and having a few strategies under your belt can help keep toddler sleep on track and balanced through this busy transition in the home.
Why are Sleep Battles Happening?
I find that the sleep battles start out of the blue a few weeks or months after baby arrives, while other times, they progressively get worse right from the start of baby coming home. Sometimes we do not even associate baby coming home with the sleep disruptions because it seems so long after. Whatever the case, the disruptions often come down to the fact that you don’t have the same time to devote to your toddler as you used to. This is a huge adjustment for your toddler, and they now feel left out, and in a way, they might feel as though they have been replaced. **cue mom guilt**
The baby’s needs often take priority to their needs. You may find yourself being short with your toddler in ways like “don’t feed your baby sister dill pickles” and much more. The day-to-day is usually focused more on the baby’s needs at this point, and it is just a reality. Bedtime battles can stem from your toddler craving your attention.
There are ways that you can help your toddler through this new transition. It can take time and patience as they adapt to the new family member, but with a little extra time spent with them and some consistency, sleep battles can be reduced.
10 Tips to Help Keep Toddler Sleep on Track
1. Fill up their cup!
Give hugs, kisses, smiles, and I love you’s every chance you get during the day. I know that sometimes it feels like all we are doing is filling up other cups as ours is left draining at a rapid pace. Having your toddler feel loved will help them focus on the positive things the new baby brings to the home.
2. Use a Positive Reinforcement Chart to make bedtime a happy time of the day.
Do NOT make this a “reward” chart where they earn stickers for behaviors you want and don’t get stickers for behaviors you don’t want. This is NOT a punishment chart in any form. Instead, choose 3 things in the bedtime routine that they will do no matter what. Then let them put a sticker on their chart when this is completed. Examples include getting clean in the tub, filling up their belly with a bedtime snack, brushing their teeth, and giving kisses goodnight. This way, they are always getting the sticker, whether it is a good or bad night. The goal here is to help your toddler feel good about bedtime.
3. Let your toddler make choices in the bedtime routine.
Let them choose their pajamas, the bedtime snack, the books you will read, and the songs they want to sing. You are letting them know that you hear them and respect their needs/wants.
4. Eliminate the bedtime back and forth.
If your toddler comes out a hundred times at night, then you want to have everything they typically ask for already available in their room. This may include their drink, blankets, loveys, etc. Having everything already in place before you do lights out, you are helping to eliminate those struggles of going back and forth into the room.
5. Put baby to “bed” before going into your toddler’s room.
This can be magic! Remember, your toddler feels replaced! Making it seem like your toddler is not missing out on anything can be a great way to make bedtime more enjoyable. If your toddler thinks the baby is going to bed at the same time, then it can be easier for them to go to bed as well. They don’t feel like they are missing out on any fun or that the new baby is getting special treatment! During your routine, tell your toddler to help you put baby to sleep. Then go into your baby’s sleep space together and put them down, say goodnight, and then leave the room to continue with your toddler’s routine. Once your toddler is in their room to finish off the routine, then you or your partner can go and grab baby.
6. Have extra cuddle time once in the room.
Adding an extra book and/or song helps you connect with your toddler again during these busy days. When we bring home a new baby, the opposite can happen. Instead of adding more cuddle time, we start rushing through the toddler routine because the baby needs us. If you can, extend the time with your toddler during the routine to help them feel safe and secure. No parent ever regretted too many cuddles!
7. Reflect on the best parts of the day.
Adding this into your routine right before turning out the lights can help draw attention to all of the best moments you had together. They love this!
8. Make sure their sleep schedule is appropriate.
A toddler often experiences bedtime battles due to the timing of sleep. So their schedule may be able to be tweaked slightly to help them be ready for sleep at night! Reading sample schedules for toddlers can help guide you to know if you have a healthy sleep schedule.
9. Eliminate all struggles.
If there is a struggle because they are coming out of their room numerous times asking for different things or crying to get you to come back in the room, then instead of getting frustrated, eliminate the battle. One gentle strategy that can work great for toddlers is to use a chair method. After you tuck them in and turn out the lights, sit in a chair right beside their bed. Tell them, “mommy/daddy will sit here with you until you fall asleep.” Then do exactly that. Once asleep, you can leave the room. On the first night or two, you might rub their back, hum, shush, etc. to keep them calm and in bed. What you are doing is eliminating the habit of the fight and any reinforcement from getting frustrated.
Every couple of days, shift the chair slightly further away from their bed, which will naturally reduce the amount of soothing needed to help them fall asleep. It is a slower method but helps your toddler build trust that you are near while also giving them the independence to feel confident in going to sleep at night. Remember, this sleep disruption often stems from an emotional change.
10. Give yourself grace!
You are recovering, you are adapting, and you are learning. You don’t have a manual or instruction sheet for getting through these hard transitions. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Just take it one day at a time. Using some of the above tips for keeping your toddler’s sleep on track will help make bedtimes go a little easier.
This is a hard time for new parents. Every new baby brings a new dynamic to your family, and it can be a learning curve for everyone. It may take a little extra work and coordination with your partner to keep your toddler’s sleep on track after a new baby, but it’s worth it. You got this!!